Last week marked a tremendous victory for women’s health as the Obama administration announced new rules that improve insurance coverage of preventive health services for women. These new rules, based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s expert panel (IOM) and initiated by the new health care law, will ensure all women have access to quality affordable care that has been proven to improve their health.
Currently, far too many women go without the basic preventive services needed to keep them healthy. But these new rules require all health insurance plans to cover basic preventive care services and to cover them without additional out-of-pocket costs. The new benefits include coverage for an annual well-woman preventive care visit, screening for gestational diabetes, counseling and screening for sexually transmitted infections and domestic violence, lactation support, and contraceptive coverage. All of these benefits will be covered without the patient co-pays that have been shown to be a barrier to the widespread use of many of these preventive services.
While all of the services covered by the new guidelines are important for women’s health, the inclusion of contraceptive coverage has garnered most of the attention. The IOM’s thorough analysis, upon which its recommendations were based, clearly illustrates the important preventive benefits of proper birth spacing and planning pregnancies on the health of not only women but their children. And even though the new rule provides a conscience clause that exempts religious groups, like churches, from having to provide contraceptive coverage a small but vocal minority of conservative groups that do not support the use of birth control have done their best to polarize this issue.
I’m pleased that the Obama administration stood its ground and relied on the science to make this decision. By empowering women to take control over their health care, this rule will benefit millions of women and their families. This is another important step in the effort to shift our health care system from one focused on “sick care” to one focused on prevention, which will save lives and valuable health care dollars.